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Charter School Expenses 2009

Like we did last year, Ken Hirsh and I used the 2008-2009 financial audits to calculate charter school expenses per pupil for the 77 charter schools operating during the year. This provides a sense of how much charter schools are spending, using funds from philanthropy and other sources, above the $12,432 per pupil provided by the city Department of Education. We’ve found this number is often elusive or non-existent, so we’ve tried to rectify that situation here.

Our main findings were that while total charter school expenses increased over the past year by 8 percent per pupil, the average amount spent by each charter school above the base level provided by the DOE was 13 percent less than in 2007-08. This could be partly be due to the decline in per pupil philanthropy, a trend we detailed in an earlier post, but we can’t be sure. The workbook with all our calculations is available here.

The total expenses for the 77 schools were $342,825,475 compared to $236,230,149 in 2007-2008 — a 45% increase, largely reflecting the significant increase in the number of charter school students. The per-pupil expenses for 2008-2009 were $14,456 — $1,095, or 8 percent more, than in 2007-2008. For the 2008-09 school year, the “base funding” per pupil, i.e. the fixed amount per pupil received from the DOE regardless of demographics, was $12,432. So spending on the average student was $2,024 above the base amount. This is $314 less than the $2,338 spent above the base in 2007-2008. Thus, while the base funding amount increased by 13 percent, from $11,023 to $12,432, the amount charter schools spent above these numbers was actually 13 percent less in 2008-09. Unlike in our philanthropy analysis, if you analyze  charter schools by those with CMOs, EMOs, or CGOs, the numbers are similar across the board.

These expense numbers include an estimated value of the services rendered by charter management organizations for the benefit of the school as well as other in-kind services, such as free legal help or subsidized rent.  Since DOE space is given free to traditional public schools, it is not included in expense calculations for schools that are housed in public space. (It should be noted that some schools, such as the Carl C. Icahn Charter School in the Bronx, do estimate the value of the space provided to them by the DOE.) CMOs may also incur some fundraising expenses that are not listed in the annual financial reports of individual charter schools, so the fundraising numbers we list in our spreadsheet are, at best, incomplete.

Similarly, the numbers do not include the value of other services provided free by the DOE to both charter and traditional public schools like transportation, custodial services, and utilities. Additionally, we did not consider the demographics of the population served (i.e. ELL, Special Education, etc). A school like Opportunity Charter School, which serves a large special education population, spent $27,844 per pupil —almost twice the average. In the future we hope to perform an analysis that takes these characteristics into account.

Obviously it would be interesting to compare these numbers to traditional public schools; however the comparison is complicated by some of the same issues discussed above.

Some additional notes:

1. We subtracted out KIPP To College costs because these amounts are not used for current students. This is their alumni program.

2. We averaged across KIPP schools for per pupil expenses. KIPP seems to run some network-wide expenses through KIPP Academy.

3. We removed the New York Center for Autism.

4. We included fundraising expenses (although we broke them out on our spreadsheet for those who are curious to see how much charter schools spend on fundraising).

As always, we’d love to get feedback from charter school operators and informed readers so that we can improve this analysis!

UPDATE: This post has been updated to note that the fundraising numbers in the spreadsheet are likely to be incomplete.

About our First Person series:

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